I rarely post guest posts, but having read this on another blog, I asked my friend, Rob Wilkerson, who I have known online for awhile, if he would be happy for me to repost it here. I have enjoyed his blog, Miscellanies On The Gospel, which is currently taking a back seat to his work in planting a new church. So, thanks Rob, and thanks to my friend who runs the blog that first posted this.
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The background to my life is simple. Having been a Christian, I believe, for over twenty years, there was right along side my deep desire to live for Christ, a seeming lack of power in what I was doing. Reading the word, praying, evangelizing, loving my wife, disciplining my children, family worship, personal devotions, etc. ad nauseum all seemed to be labors which were too laborious! I knew that the Christian life was a series of battles which were all part of a larger war, but come on! Christians are supposed to love the word just like new born babes crave their mother’s milk. Christians are supposed to find the word of God to be the same delight David did in Psalm 119. Christians are supposed to pray regularly in the Spirit on all occasions for all the saints. Christians are supposed to fight sin and win more than they lose. But labor as hard as I might in these disciplines, there was always this nagging feeling like I was going to lose, or like I it would never be good enough.
The repeated failures in so many areas began to amass this huge burden of guilt so that every single day wherever I awoke, I was plagued with guilt, which induced stress, which produced anxiety. I was a nervous wreck, it seemed, most of the time. Every day was filled with stress about personal holiness, ministry to my wife, ministry to my children, ministry to my flock, diligence at work, and on and on. The most minute failures in each area would almost overwhelm me at times until I just wanted to run away, shut out the world, or even end it all and head on to heaven.
The underlying root problem was simple: I knew that the forgiveness of God through Christ was a power beyond anything I could imagine. I really believed that if I understood forgiveness I would have a new found power to kill sin, love my wife, love my children, love my flock, and glorify God in my job. Forgiveness would implant in me a view of the heinous nature of sin so that I would love running away from it and toward the Father. It would appear to be more beautiful than the objects of lust and covetousness. It would become more overwhelming than my guilt. But this is where my thought process failed me. I thought if I simply understood forgiveness, I would be in great shape. I figured that the struggles meant I really didn’t understand it. So I studied and studied and read and read as much on forgiveness and its associative doctrines as I possibly could. And therein lay the problem. It was a spiritual problem, and not a theological one.
For years, the words of Jesus in Luke 11 were my breath. How good is the heavenly Father to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. I believed Jesus’ words. If I kept asking, seeking, and knocking, He’d give it to me. So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. And kept on praying. And prayed more. For weeks…months…and even years. There was this thing inside me which simply would not let me give up on believing this promise in Luke 11.
I sat in a theological classroom for a total of eight years, pursuing my undergrad in Biblical Studies, then my M.Div. in hermeneutics and exegesis. I was unsettled in my final convictions regarding the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit. Did it accompany salvation? Or was it an experience that came after? The answer to the questions are “yes” and “yes,” respectively, of course. But I had the same problem here as I did with forgiveness. I thought that if I studied it and understood it, everything would be different for me.
Then I listened to a message by Terry Virgo last week. My dear friend Vince Coakley forwarded it to me after a dinner together in Charlotte back in February. He challenged me regarding my views and thought processes, then forwarded me a link to the message on the web. A couple of weeks later I downloaded this and every other sermon I could by this fellow of whom I’d heard very little. I figured several sermons would help me get a feel for his theology. I listened to the message Vince told me about first: “Leading People to Experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” While listening, I was giving a hearty “amen” in my heart towards his theology, though struggling a bit with one or two features. I do remember pausing the message, however, a short ways through and praying: “Lord, the bottom line is that whether I agree with this man’s theology or not, I need the power of the Spirit in my life in so many areas. So I pray that if the baptism of the Spirit is biblical, is for me, and is something that comes through the laying on of hands, that You, Lord, would be willing to make an exception in my case and lay hands on me digitally.” So I listened with that sort of attentiveness to every word, praying constantly for the blessing, whatever it looked like. I even imagined the Lord laying His own hands on me while Terry was praying at the end.
Last Saturday night the Lord answered my prayer. I had finished my sermon preparation on the doctrine of expiation and forgiveness for Sunday morning. I went into the restroom to brush my teeth, said to myself, “You probably need to spend more time bathing that sermon in prayer,” which was immediately followed with this nagging sort of guilt I’ve struggled with most my life. “You haven’t been very diligent about your prayer life this past week! So why are you so concerned with it all the sudden? Do you think God will suddenly rise up and answer your prayers when you’re thinking about it only now, a few hours before you must preached?” Horrible, I know. But it was as much a part of my life, every day, all day, as breathing air. And it was debilitating.
But something happened that night. Something arose in me that I’d not experienced before. The Lord rose up in me suddenly as a warrior, defeated that thought with the word forgiveness, bringing to mind instantly the material I had just finished preparing, and the battle was over…that quickly. I was amazed. Then came the mysterious, unexplainable, awesome, happy, and joyful happening.
I laughed, I cried, I was overjoyed! And then, without warning, a flood of prophetic activity filled my mind such as I’ve never experienced before. I saw things, beautiful, mysterious, strange, awesome, incredible, indescribable, heavenly…all things that seemed to flow so naturally out of my joy that all I did was pray for more, and that I’d be swept away into the third heaven in the process. I began trying to describe what I was seeing. And then, as if all of this was not strange and mysterious enough, I noticed that my description of the things I was seeing was not in English. Wow! Holy cow! What do I do with that?! I was speaking in tongues. For the first time ever!
Then, the words to describe what I was seeing prophetically would appear in my mind, and I would try to pronounce them. They were not English, and since I’m not a linguist, I honestly didn’t know what language it was. I thought to myself, “Is this a tongue or language of angels that Paul re
ferred to in 1 Corinthians 13?” It hardly mattered. The fact that all of this – the flood of joy and happiness, the prophecy, the tongues, everything – the fact that it flowed out of the truth of God’s forgiveness for me could hardly be something Satan delighted in and was sponsoring. He hates Jesus and the cross because that’s where he was defeated. So this was honestly and genuinely from God Himself, and I was so excited that there was no mistaking that!
This lasted for quite a while until my mind grew weary and my body tired. I was about to drift off to sleep when I distinctly heard the Spirit say, “Arise and pray for your children.” I remember think, “Dang, I’m so sleepy now.” But what would usually follow as a commitment to sleep rather than a commitment to tarry an hour, was thrown out the window, and I reasoned, “I’m not gonna say no to that voice!” So I jumped up, entered my two oldest boys’ room, fell to the ground, and prayed with more vigor and fervor and power than I ever had before. Then the tongues surfaced again and there was an additional increase in power. I entered my two youngest children’s rooms and experienced the same thing.
I returned to bed, slept well, got up the next morning and did not experience even the slightest bit of worry, stress, and anxiety I normally did…and have not since that day, praise God. I worshiped with more intimacy than I ever had, and preached more passionately than I believe I ever had, and people definitely noticed.
Since that night, there’s been this whole new strength and power over my mortal sins of anxiety and unbelief. And to top it off this constant sense of anxiety about my future – when do I make the transition from business consultation to pastoring – well that’s all gone too! Every morning. There’s this new profound desire to read the word and pray and prophetically pray for people I meet. Colors are brighter and more vivid. I hear the birds and see nature more profoundly now. Singing enters my heart more spontaneously than ever before. Prayer has no longer been a labor. And there has not been a single ounce of guilt rule my heart since that night. Absolutely amazing, for someone like me who was almost ruled night and day with guilt. Subsequently, there’s been a powerful sense of God’s providence and sovereignty in His world and in my family and our church. Worry has left me because there’s a deep, inward sense of God’s control, without me wading through guilt over unbelief in it to grasp it. Things just seem a bit easier, overall.
The bottom line is this. Simply seeking a right theology and understanding of the Spirit and the gospel is not enough. It is a necessary thing, because the experience that followed for me was based on that theology. Without a right understanding of forgiveness, I’m not quite sure what it was the Spirit would have applied to me. But with that knowledge He applied the doctrine of forgiveness and expiation to me in a way only He could. And that’s all the difference right there. HE did it, not me. HE plugged it into my heart, where I could not. HE made an application of it in a way I could not. He connected the teaching with the experiential for me last Saturday night, and it feels like I’ve been converted all over again. I can’t keep trying to put my theological template over on top of the work of the Spirit in other peoples’ lives, in God’s world, in the church. It’s time to study and know what I can, but remain open to the work of the Spirit however He desires to work in His world and especially in His church. It’s time to make theology subservient to the real, authentic, genuine, life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, without which my theology is really nothing at all.
Thank God for the baptism of the Holy Spirit! I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Pastor, Church in the Boro
You can listen to the message by Terry Virgo, Leading People to Experience the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.